“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Carl Sagan used to say that and it is a good way to detect non-sense — but someone needs to tell the news media because the commentariat are dropping extraordinary claims like American bombs on a third-world democracy. From horse hockey Russian ‘hacks’ to falsely convicting Bashar al-Assad of gassing his people despite an utter lack of evidence ( or even discernable motive ), the inaccuracy of news media has nearly cut the US public off from reality. And now this war between fact and alternative fact or real versus #FakeNews has set the stage for MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and other celebrity propagandists to tell their prime-time TV viewers that antifa — that is, anti-fascists — are the same as fascists. Or, in other words, opposing fascists is the same as being a fascist.
But the scary part is many seem to believe it.
‘Anti-Fascism is Fascism‘
( somehow, idk )
Whether its Fox News, the Daily Show, or MSNBC’s Morning Joe, political ideologues across the US media landscape are apparently horrified by video showing antifa groups knocking the daylights out of neo-nazis, KKK supporters, and fascists. Mainstream neoliberal and conservative news-shows alike are pushing the nuanced analysis of alt-right agitators that antifa using non-lethal violence against literal nazis makes them no different than the nazis that antifa are punching. It makes sense that alt-right soap box preachers like Breitbart’s Joel Pollak or Richard Spencer might be miffed about antifa ( antifa folks love to glitter-bomb Spencer wherever he spews racist non-sense ). But why are the center-extremists at MSNBC, CNN, and Time Magazine so upset?
Freedom of Speech vs. Privilege of a Platform
“Who is running Berkley and why can’t they protect free speech?”
-Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe
Most of the anti-anti-fascist arguments are based on pious concerns about the protection of free speech — the problem is that these dingbats do not seem to understand what free speech actually is. ‘Free speech’ refers to the first amendment of the constitution, also called the bill of rights, which is a list of rights that ( in theory ) the government is not allowed to take away ( at least, not without due process ). It says “congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech” and it is meant to keep the government from passing laws to limit which opinions or ideas people are allowed to talk about. Free speech means the state cannot tell you what to say ( or write or sing or expressively dance or whatever ).
Free speech rights limit what the state can do — nothing in the first amendment limits the behavior of individuals or non-governmental groups. For example, a person will almost certainly be removed from MSNBC’s studio if they ran inside and loudly tried to read this article to the hosts of Morning Joe and their free-speech-loving guests. MSNBC’s security guards would shut down your ‘free speech’ in their studio because MSNBC does not owe you any rights under the first amendment. Antifa cannot violate the rights of nazis because only the government can do that, which the host of Morning Joe should probably know because he was a member of congress for 6 years as the representative for Florida’s 1st district from 1995 – 2001.
Antifa Isn’t Preventing Fascists’ Free Speech,
Antifa Is Denying a Platform to Fascists
Neither Berkeley, Charlottesville, or any other community has any constitutional duty to provide a platform or provide a safe-space for fascists, racists, or the alt-right. Free speech does not mean that anyone can speak anywhere at all times. Speech is limited on private property nationwide by owners or managers, on public property by city noise-laws limiting speech to certain volumes and by time of day, and speech that incites or is considered profane are limited on radio and TV. These are platforms and the first amendment does not mean that every platform must be available for free speech. No matter how public a public library may be, it is almost never an appropriate platform for someone to exercise their constitutional right to have a slam-poetry battle.
Neighborhoods and communities like Berkeley, however, do not have the legal rights enjoyed by businesses and municipal groups to limit inappropriate speech in shared spaces. With no legal way to control the spaces they share, communities must either accept the will of property owners and authorities or protect their space the old-fashioned way. Antifa is not showing up at private fascist discussion groups or neo-nazi tea-parties to stop political discussion of the merits of Nazism — they show up to deter fascists from using public platforms to organize. By imposing a physical price of violence, antifa is denying access to platforms fascists use to recruit new members and normalize genocide as a valid political idea.
Anti-fascist Violence & Racist Violence:
Legally Equal But Ethically & Morally Non-Equal
No one is claiming antifa actions are legal, of course — most acts of violence are illegal for obvious reasons. Antifa organizers are fully aware that beating up neo-nazis and white supremacists is a crime but that makes them criminals, not fascists. Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity are free to exercise their unfortunate but constitutional right to cry about nazis being punched or glitter-bombed but the idea that fighting fascists somehow turns antifa into fascists is absurd. Fascists fight in the hopes of building an imperialist system of racist, authoritarian collectivism. Antifa takes the debatable but ethical position that using limited violence against fascists is justified by a plausible risk that greater violence will befall their communities by letting fascists freely organize and recruit in public spaces.
There are certainly good logical and ethical arguments that someone might use to argue against the tactics used by antifa — but claiming that antifa is equal to fascists is simply not defensible. The facts are clear — fascists, neo-nazis, and other right-wing extremists are proudly drenched in the blood of an astounding 74% of the hundreds killed by acts of terror in the United States since 2007.
And antifa? Antifa killed zero.
We Need More Honest Debate of Violence,
Non-Violence, & a Diversity of Tactics
Whether non-violent tactics may be more effective than violent ones is an issue that can and should be debated. Violence is not a fundamental part of anti-fascisism — if a non-violent tactic was shown to reduce the activity of fascist groups more effectively, then anti-fascists are likely to adopt it. Bringing up ethical issues of if or when violent tactics are justified or effective is a valid question — but simply dismissing violence as ‘ineffective’ or insisting that antifa’s violence ‘only helps extremists’ is not an honest way to start that discussion. After antifa confronted racists and fascists at the rally to Unite the Right in Charlottesville, the anti-Muslim organization ACT for America cancelled 67 “America First” demonstrations due to “recent violence in America and in Europe.” Ethical issues aside, that seems to be an objectively positive result and activists who want to make a persuasive case will have to show non-violent alternatives can achieve equal or better results.
Until somebody discovers and starts implementing real and effective non-violent alternatives to deter fascists from organizing and preying on the marginalized, antifa is likely to continue beating them up. We live in a crazy world — and, if scrappy leftists picking fist-fights with actual nazis is the biggest problem you can find to worry about, then it may be time to unplug your TV and re-think your values.